Report: Another Launch Anomaly for Russia’s Space Program

Russian media are reporting that one of two military satellites placed into orbit by a Soyuz 2-1v rocket  has failed to separate from its Volga upper stage after launch on Saturday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

The Kanopus ST satellite includes sensors designed to track submarines, and the KYuA 1 secondary payload is a passive spacecraft that would be used to calibrate ground-based military radars. It’s unclear which spacecraft might still be attached to the upper stage.

This was the second launch for the Soyuz 2-1v, which successfully flew its maiden flight in December 2013. The rocket is a slimmed down version of the Soyuz 2 launcher, with the four booster rockets removed from the first stage and he NK-33 engine replacing the RD-117 motor. The launcher is capable of playing up to 2,850 kg into low Earth orbit.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Cygnus Resupply Mission to ISS begins with Spectacular Sunset Launch of Atlas V

The Cygnus spacecraft is back in orbit for its return to flight mission to the International Space Station, coming back from last October’s Antares launch failure. Orbital ATK’s resupply spacecraft lifted off on Sunday atop an Atlas V rocket as the first in a pair of interim missions contracted to United Launch Alliance until the modified Antares rocket will be ready for flight using a new main engine system.

Atlas V blasted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 21:44 UTC, heading into a dense cloud cover over the Space Coast as it made its north-easterly departure. Flying along a coast-hugging trajectory, Atlas V was widely visible from the East Coast of the United States as it fired its massive RD-180 engine on the first stage, making a burn of a little over four minutes before handing off to Centaur for a firing of nearly 14 minutes. Cygnus was sent on its way 21 minutes after liftoff, setting sail for the International Space Station where it will arrive on Wednesday for the delivery of three and a half metric tons of supplies.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Virgin Galactic Announces 747 Carrier for LauncherOne Orbital Vehicle

Virgin Galactic has introduced a 747 to its fleet of vehicles as part of a technical update on its LauncherOne small satellite launch service.

The 747-400 commercial jet aircraft, previously operated by Virgin Atlantic under the nickname ‘Cosmic Girl,’ will provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle. Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic engineers announced the acquisition of the aircraft while providing an update on LauncherOne development progress.

“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO. “Selecting the 747 airframe provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices.”

Read more at: Spaceref

SpaceX May Attempt Landing on Solid Ground This Month, Official Says

SpaceX may try to make history with its next launch later this month, returning its rocket to a landing pad rather than an ocean-based platform, a NASA official said on Tuesday.

Carol Scott, who works technical integration for SpaceX within NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, told reporters here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today that SpaceX’s first attempt at a land-based rocket landing may be coming sooner than the public expects.

“You know how they want to fly the stage back, right? Their plan is to land it out here on the Cape [Canaveral] side,” Scott told reporters. SpaceX declined to comment on Scott’s remarks when contacted

Still working to recover from its Falcon 9 rocket launch failure in June, SpaceX has been targeting a return to flight for this month. The company is slated to loft 12 Orbcomm OG2 satellites from its Complex 40 launchpad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in mid-December.

Read more at: NBC News

Washington Weighs on FAA Role in Managing Space Traffic

The White House and members of U.S. Congress are in early discussions about how to give the Federal Aviation Administration a role in monitoring the space environment and heading off collisions between commercial satellites, a task currently handled by the U.S. Air Force, sources tell SpaceNews.

The discussion has a sense of urgency, sources said, as several new businesses, many with ties to Silicon Valley, have plans to launch hundreds of satellites in the coming years. With that in mind, proponents are asking Congress to move quickly to find a home for space traffic management.

Any such shift likely would have the blessing of the Pentagon. Leaders from Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command have said they would like to lessen the burden on military space operators so they can concentrate on preparing for potential conflicts in space.

Read more at: Space News

Northern Lights Now Appear in Central Europe and Much of US

Think you have to trudge to Sweden or Alaska to see the Northern Lights? Think again. Typically only seen near the pole, the Northern Lights have been lighting up the skies over much of central Europe and the contiguous US this year.

Now citizen science project Aurorasaurus is making it easier to know when to run outside to take in the spectacular sky show by combining Twitter data, peer verification tools and a real-time alert system. It started off by looking at auroras in the northern hemisphere, but has recently expanded to map those in the southern one, too.

This year has been a stormy one for the sun, which is at the peak phase of its activity cycle. As a result, its belches of geomagnetic radiation have been particularly zealous, leaving Earth in the firing line. That solar wind interacts with Earth’s atmosphere to create colourful light displays near both poles, called auroras.

Predicting precisely where the aurora will appear is tricky. Scientists use NOAA’s OVATION Aurora Forecast Model, which draws on solar wind intensity data collected by a NASA satellite to create a map of where the phenomenon might be visible.

Read more at: New Scientist

SOHO Celebrates 20 Years of Discoveries

Originally planned for a two-year mission, the ESA–NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, is today celebrating two decades of scientific discovery. Launched on 2 December 1995, the satellite enjoys an uninterrupted view of our star from some 1.5 million kilometres beyond Earth in the direction of the Sun. Its numerous mission extensions have allowed it to cover nearly all of two 11-year solar cycles, making it the longest-lived Sun-watching satellite to date.

During its pioneering career it has returned a wealth of new information on the Sun’s deep core through to the hot and dynamic outer atmosphere, the solar wind and solar energetic particles.

Crucially, SOHO is relied upon today to monitor the effect of space weather on our planet, and it plays a vital role in forecasting potentially dangerous solar storms. These storms are typically driven by coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which propel billions of tonnes of electrified gas from the Sun into space at millions of kilometres per hour.

Read more at: ESA

Orion Service Module Umbilical Tests Support NASA’s Journey to Mars

In support of NASA’s journey to Mars, testing began Nov. 30 on one of the umbilicals that will connect from the mobile launcher tower to the Orion service module at the Launch Equipment Test Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mobile launcher will carry the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft atop a crawler-transporter to the launch pad for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), scheduled to launch in 2018.

The mobile launcher will be equipped with a number of lines, called umbilicals that connect to the rocket and Orion spacecraft to provide power, communications, coolant and fuel. In preparation for the rocket’s first launch on EM-1, engineers are conducting a series of tests on the Orion Service Module Umbilical System (OSMU), including a simulated rocket launch.

During the first in the series of tests, the OSMU was attached to a Vehicle Motion Simulator that can simulate all expected launch vehicle motions from rollout through about the first half-second of launch, when the umbilical is disconnected.

Read more at: NASA

China’s Space Prowess Could Challenge Decades of US Dominance: Report

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recently released its 2015 annual report to Congress, and it includes an intriguing look at the China’s space and counterspace programs.

The 2015 report, released in November and provided to Inside Outer Space by the USCC, provides information on and analysis of developments in the U.S.-China security dynamic, U.S.-China bilateral trade and economic relations, and China’s evolving bilateral relationships with other nations.

In an introduction to Section 2, which includes the analysis on China’s space program, the report notes that China “has become one of the top space powers in the world” after decades of high prioritization and steady investment. “China’s aspirations are driven by its assessment that space power enables the country’s military modernization and would allow it to challenge U.S. information superiority during a conflict,” the report states.

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Re-Entry: Long March 3B Rocket Body

A Long March 3B rocket stage re-entered the atmosphere on December 4, 2015 after five years in orbit, making a slow decay from a highly elliptical Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The Long March 3B rocket launched the ChinaSat-6A communications satellite.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

An Orbiting Garbage Collector that Eats Space Junk to Fuel Itself

Space junk–both manufactured and natural–has been orbiting our planet and threatening satellites and spacecraft with collisions. And accordingly, engineers and scientists have been devising ways to get rid of the mess. But whether it’s a spacefaring robot or spacecraft carrying nets or traps, it requires power, and that’s an expensive prospect. So, engineers at the Tsinghua University in Beijing have proposed a design concept for a space debris engine that can eat its way through the junk and convert it into plasma fuel to sustain its mission.

The concept, posted to arXiv, details an engine that could ingest debris, break it into tiny pieces (if it happens to be a large chunk), and then grind it (or blast with a laser) into a powder. Heating that powder up could then render it into a plasma, to be used as fuel. And since we have so much space junk to clean up, this engine could keep these helpful space vacuums zooming around space for a long time.

Read more at: Popsci

Why You Shouldn’t Compare Blue Origin’s Rocket Landing to SpaceX

For the past year, SpaceX has been trying to gently land its Falcon 9 rocket after launching it into space. The goal is for a large portion of the Falcon 9 to touchdown on a floating barge at sea post-launch, but the two times SpaceX has tried it after a return from space, the rocket was unable to stick the landing. A recovery of the rocket would be a major step toward making a fully reusable rocket — something that’s never been done before.

Then this morning, Jeff Bezos-backed spaceflight company Blue Origin blindsided everyone. The company revealed it had accomplished a rocket landing of its own. After launching the New Shepard rocket to the edge of space, the vehicle gently touched down on the ground at Blue Origin’s test facility.

Read more at: The Verge

Russia Flies Strategic Space Warfare Missile

Moscow carried out the first successful flight test of its new anti-satellite missile last month, becoming just the second nation to arm its military with space warfare weapons.

Russia’s direct ascent anti-satellite missile, known as Nudol, was successfully tested on November 18, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the test. It was the first successful test in three attempts, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Russia now joins China as the only nations with strategic space warfare weapons. In October, China conducted a flight test of its anti-satellite missile, the Dong Neng-3 direct ascent missile.

Analysts say anti-satellite missiles could cripple US intelligence, navigation, and communications capabilities that are critical for both military operations and civilian infrastructure.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Dec 2015, virtual

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) will hold a brief telecon on December 14, 2015 from 3:30-3:45 pm ET on possible recommendations for its 2015 annual report.

Anyone may listen in on the teleconference by following these instructions as published in the Federal Register:

Any interested person may call the USA toll free conference call number (800) 857- 5746; passcode 4124668. Attendees will be required to give their name and affiliation at the beginning of the teleconference. Note: please “mute” your telephone.

Read more at: Space Policy online

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